After Completion Of Sustainable Aviation Fuel Flight-Testing Program, Airbus To Re-deploy A380 “MSN1” Testbed To Hydrogen Propulsion Development ProgramApril 3, 2022
Having recently completed the flight testing program with 100% pure unblended SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel) flowing into one of its engine, Airbus’ own A380 serial number one ‘MSN1’, the very first A380 built is now set to embark on a new experimental mission in the coming weeks. This airframe which had also been used extensively in the development and test certification of the entire A380 program and also the A350’s Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine development program will, in the coming days be re-purposed for use as a Hydrogen propulsion flight laboratory. Part of a new program initiated by Airbus and some of its partners and designated ZEROe, will seek to develop a zero-emission propulsion system.
Testing unblended Sustainable Aviation Fuel
As a flying testbed for the 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel, the ‘MSN1′ aircraft took off from Toulouse Blagnac airfield in southern France on March 25th 2022 with one of its outboard engine operating on 100% SAF. The flight test regime which comprised take-off, cruise and landing operations was complemented on March 29th by another test-flight with one of the aircraft inboard engine operating on 100% SAF this time. Industrial partners on the program include Pratt & Whitney, the maker of the aircraft APU (Auxiliary Power Unit), Rolls Royce who builds the Trent 900 engine powering the A380 and TotalEnergies which supplies the 100% SAF.
Highlighting the critical mission played by the A380, Airbus’ François Pfindel has indicated that “Due to the A380’s engine and fuel system configuration, analysing engine and fuel system behaviours with 100% SAF needs to be managed over multiple flights,” and “In doing so, we’ll generate a wealth of data that will help us to complement the research programmes currently underway.”
The flight-testing campaigns involving 100% SAF fueling the A380 only come in the heels of flight-testing conducted on a Airbus A350 for the aircraft’s Rolls Royce Trent XWB in March 2021 followed in October 2021 by flight-testing of 100% SAF applied to CFM LEAP-1A engines installed on a Airbus A319neo.
For the Airbus A380 MSN1, another rigourous flight-testing campaign is about to be underway as in two weeks time, the aircraft is to be re-purposed for the ZEROe program where it will participate in demonstrating hydrogen combustion technology and ensure that it is mature enough to produce a zero-emission propulsion system operational by the year 2035.
Under the ZEROe programme, MSN1 will see a hydrogen powered gas turbine mounted atop the aircraft left fuselage aft of the wings. The aircraft cavernous main deck will be used to host, in addition to the testing equipment, the four liquid hydrogen storage tanks along with the hydrogen distribution processing subsystems.
According to Airbus, safe storage of liquid hydrogen, given its peculiar properties requires “development and industrialisation of cryogenic tanks for liquid hydrogen storage”. This task has been assigned to Airbus’ Defense and Space Engineering Division in the ZEROe programme.
According to Airbus SA, CFM International, the 50/50 joint formed by Gneral Electric and Safran Aircraft Engines has been tasked with developing the hydrogen combustion engine. To that end, a General Electric PassportTM turbofan with a modified combustor, fuel system and control system to run on hydrogen has been selected “due to its physical size, advanced turbo machinery, and fuel flow capability”.
The goal for this multi-year development programme is to have a zero emission aircraft available for commercial service in 2035.